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Health foundations join forces to improve California schools

November 3, 2009 |  6:58 pm

The California Education Supports project, a new joint venture between three nonprofit foundations, held its first forum Tuesday to address the effects of mental and physical health on California students. Nearly 100 community leaders, students, health and education professionals piled into a Manual Arts High School classroom to talk about those issues.  

The California Endowment, the James Irvine Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, which are funding the $700,000 effort,  plan to release policy papers and hold hearings in the next 12 to 24 months on a range of potential issues from childhood obesity to reproductive health.

The project is part of a broader effort to integrate student healthcare with educational goals, said Cecilia Echeverria of the California Endowment.

Manual Arts has an on-site health clinic, operated by St. John's Well Child and Family Center, which provides services to students, their families and the surrounding community. But some said the school should continue to focus on reducing violence.

"It makes people think about priorities a bit differently: 'How can we worry so much about vending machines when there are lockdowns on campus?'" said Linh Huynh with MLA Partner Schools, which helps manage Manual Arts. Huynh added that measures like school uniforms have significantly improved campus safety.

Erin Gabel, legislative director for state Assemblyman Tom Torlakson (D-Antioch), called Manual Arts High  “a great example of vision around student health services, but not necessarily a model of acting on that vision,” she said. “They’re demonstrating how difficult the steps are and how great the opportunities are.”

Torlakson, who chairs the Assembly Select Committee on Schools and Community, had planned the gathering as a legislative hearing, Gabel said, but the Assembly members slated to attend were called back to Sacramento to work on the water policy bill.

The event attracted health and education professionals from outside Los Angeles. Miguel Villarreal, food and nutritional services director for the Novato Unified School District in Marin County, raised the importance of providing students with inexpensive but healthy meals during a relatively short lunch break. “We want to see where they’re going and how we can leverage their work in our field — and make sure we’re included" [in the policy discussion], he said.

Camille Levee, executive director of Glendale Healthy Kids, came to see how the experts were planning to integrate dental, mental and physical care into public education. “We provide a connection between students and healthcare services, and we do case management,” she said. Levee said she came to see if any of the panelists were proposing a similar model.

--Amina Khan